Burns gets angles just right to keep Linfield's run going
Linfield 0 Crusaders 0: What's that old saying about 'goalscorers winning matches but defences winning championships'?
The rain pelted down at Windsor Park on Saturday but the floodgates failed to open.
Both Linfield and Crusaders could take some comfort from a scoreless draw after their rearguards performed heroics.
Despite the formidable firepower on display, both defences were on top and the game's decisive moment underlined that reality.
The visitors thought they had scored in the 83rd minute when Jordan Owens' downward header from Chris Morrow's cross beat keeper Jonny Tuffey but Billy Joe Burns raced back and made a stunning goal-line clearance, hooking the ball to safety in acrobatic fashion.
No goals to entertain the fans but ample evidence that these two teams will be in title contention come March and April.
We shouldn't be surprised at the scoreline either. Both these sides are tough to beat – Linfield are unbeaten in 12 matches since their 2-0 defeat at Seaview, while the Hatchetmen haven't lost in 13 games since their 2-1 slip up at home to Ballymena United.
There was slightly more disappointment in the home dressing room afterwards as the Blues played the last 20 minutes with an extra man after Declan Caddell's dismissal but the failure of Cliftonville and Portadown to make up any ground on the leaders was a relief at Windsor and skipper Michael Gault welcomed the point.
"Looking at other results, it's a point gained," said the midfielder. "Crusaders will be up there challenging with us at the end of the season but we battled hard and we were still confident at half-time.
"After Declan (Caddell) got sent off, we pushed for the winner but at least we took something from the game. Fair play to the Crues, with 10 men they still came at us, were dangerous on the counter-attack and Billy Joe made a game saving stop on the line. It was a fantastic bit of athleticism.
"At half-time we felt one goal could have won the game and Billy Joe, who has been brilliant for us, made a vital stop with the ball heading in.
"You cannot rule out teams like Cliftonville, Portadown and Glenavon but Crusaders are a big threat. This result keeps us out in front but it's only October and there's a long way to go. After the disappointment of last season the league title is what we are striving for.
"We just have to keep winning and the league table will look after itself."
The visitors applied some early pressure but Jamie Mulgrew was in the right place at the right time to clear Colin Coates' header off the line.
Linfield gradually asserted their authority in midfield and keeper Sean O'Neill had to scoop up a teasing cross from Matthew Tipton.
Amid a heavy downpour in the second half, Tipton let fly with a fierce shot but O'Neill turned the ball over the crossbar.
At the other end, Owens missed the target with a close range header and keeper Tuffey blocked Paul Leeman's long range drive.
On 68 minutes, Paul Heatley was disappointed after only finding the side netting from Timmy Adamson's pass.
But Crusaders' challenge became more difficult in the 72nd minute when Caddell was shown a second yellow card for tackling Mulgrew from behind.
The midfielder had been booked following a clash with Gault six minutes after the restart so he was on thin ice when he stretched out to bring down Mulgrew in the centre of the sodden pitch.
In the 78th minute, Leeman headed a Morrow free-kick over the bar and then came Burns' incredible clearance to frustrate Owens.
O'Neill produced a fine save to deny Niall Quinn as the Blues piled on late pressure but there was no breakthrough, leaving visiting boss Stephen Baxter content with a share of the spoils.
"We would have taken a point before the game as it keeps our unbeaten run going and keeps us moving in the right direction," said Baxter. "We were confident coming here but this is a Linfield team that was on a very strong run and with the top drawer players they have we knew it was going to be a test. This club is an institution and they have overpowered this level of football for a decade.
"We could have nicked the win but we are pleased with a point. The pleasing thing is to play 20 minutes with 10 men and still keep our shape and limit Linfield to very few chances."
LINFIELD: Tuffey, BJ Burns, Ward, McVey (Glendinning, 63 mins), Quinn, Lowry, Gault, Mulgrew, A Burns (Carvill, 81 mins), Waterworth, Tipton (McAllister, 81 mins). Unused subs: Knowles, McCaul.
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Magowan, Leeman, Coates, McClean, Robinson, Adamson (Snoddy, 89 mins), Morrow, Caddell, Heatley, Owens. Unused subs: King, E McAllister, D McAllister, McCutcheon,.
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon).